Get the best stories to your readers as they happen. The Washington Post News Service streams breaking news, enterprise and features with photos, graphics and video directly to you.

How a McCain came home from war to mourn his famous father

By Dan Lamothe
How a McCain came home from war to mourn his famous father
Jack McCain, son of Sen. John McCain, last month at his home in Bethesda, Md., with items that he wore during his service in Afghanistan. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary

A year after the death of his father, John S. McCain IV is wrestling with his past and his future.

Better known as "Jack," the Navy helicopter pilot and son of the late senator deployed to Afghanistan in May 2018 while his father was battling brain cancer, rushed home for five days of services when his father died, and returned to Afghanistan for eight more months.

In images from the services, he appears crisp and stoic in his white dress uniform amid the pageantry and surrounded by family. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

"I can tell in the pictures - especially in the pictures at first in Arizona - that I was shellshocked," he said. "Obviously, I was tired, but it wasn't just tired. It was getting snatched out of a war zone and getting thrown back into this media and family bubble. It was an intense experience.

"I still don't think I've processed it all."

In a two-hour interview, Jack McCain discussed his year in Afghanistan and what it was like to be a McCain in the Navy - to follow in the footsteps of a father who survived five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and a grandfather and a great-grandfather who were admirals. He also described his relationship with his father and his uncertainty about what to do next in life.

Nearly the only subject he declined to talk about was President Donald Trump, who has disparaged his father repeatedly and was not invited to the funeral.

McCain, 33, left active-duty service last month to join the Navy Reserve, a decision that "gives me some time to figure life out" after four deployments. After spending a year in Afghanistan and most of the previous year away in training, he said it was time for a change for his family.

He and his wife, Renee Swift McCain, recently moved into a bright townhouse in a quiet, wooded area just north of Washington. Their son, John S. McCain V - "Mac" - is nearly 3. Renee, a major in the Air Force Reserve, was away on assignment in Estonia during the interview, and his mother, Cindy, was quietly reading in a chair near the dining-room table. Baby toys filled one corner of the room.

"For me, for my family, it was the most difficult decision that I've made," he said of leaving active military service. "I've been doing this since I was 18 years old, and there is always going to be a little piece of me that asks: Was this the right decision?"

Renee later added: "I think just being gone for so long, it's difficult getting back. A lot did happen while he was gone. I got a doctorate, and our son is now walking and talking and has entered preschool, and we moved.

"It's almost like a completely different life that he's stepping back into."

- - -

The weight of serving and leaving daily Navy life is heavy in a family with a legacy like few others.

Jack McCain's father served as an attack pilot in Vietnam before going on to run for president twice and serve as chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.

Jack's grandfather, John S. McCain Jr., earned a Silver Star for valor as a World War II submariner and commanded forces as a senior officer during the Vietnam War.

And Jack's great-grandfather, John S. McCain Sr., commanded forces as an admiral during World War II, dying four days after the Japanese formally surrendered.

Jack is the second of the senator's four children with Cindy McCain. The others are Meghan, a host on ABC's "The View"; James, who served in the Marine Corps and Army National Guard; and Bridget, who is studying teaching at Arizona State University. Their father also had three children from an earlier marriage.

"Something that my father always said - and he really didn't care how - is that he wanted us to serve at some point," Jack McCain said.

He set his sights on graduating from the Naval Academy like his father. But when he arrived in Annapolis, Maryland, he "chafed at the system," as his father had. He observed that some classmates wanted to be friends "because they thought they were going to get something out of it" and that some upperclassmen targeted him with a "little bit of extra hazing."

Navy Lt. Joseph Proffitt, an academy roommate and longtime friend, said the attention McCain received was "almost to the point of being unfair."

"I could see that if I walked a mile in Jack's shoes, there were people with different motives," Proffitt said.

McCain graduated in 2009 and said he is "beyond grateful" to have attended. It's the only college he applied to.

After flight training, he took an assignment in San Diego for a few months and moved to Guam in 2011.

It was there that he met Renee Swift at a Halloween party. McCain was dressed as Dig'em, the cartoon frog mascot for Honey Smacks cereal. She was dressed as Alice from "Alice in Wonderland."

"There was a cereal theme that year in the squadron," he said with a shrug.

To hear her tell it, there was a "harem of girls" around him that night. She didn't want to talk to him. But they eventually spoke, and things "spiraled out of control," he said with a smile.

McCain deployed three times into the Pacific by the end of 2013 and married Renee in between the latter two, in June 2013. They moved to Maryland afterward - he taught leadership at the Naval Academy and she accepted reserve military assignments around Washington.

But even as a naval officer, he had a nagging desire to be part of one of the nation's ground wars.

"He and I are both products of 9/11," said Proffitt, another pilot who took a ground assignment in Iraq in 2016 to support a Navy SEAL unit. "There was just this sense that we had to contribute."

- - -

McCain's way in was joining the Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands program, in which service members received language and cultural training to better understand the Afghans.

He initially expected to have an assignment advising Afghan forces on the ground, but he heard that the Air Force badly needed helicopter pilots to train Afghans to fly Black Hawks. Although McCain was in the Navy, he was eligible.

McCain was in training when he learned that his father had brain cancer. The news prompted a conversation between the two in which the younger McCain raised the prospect of flying in Afghanistan, uncertain that he should go.

"For him, it wasn't a question," Jack McCain said. "He said, 'If they're not going to send you, they're going to send somebody else.' "

But he braced for reality. Before deploying in May 2018, he prepared a dress uniform and stowed it away.

"We knew just based on the timeline that his dad would probably die while he was gone," Renee said. "We had a bag hanging in the closet that said 'Funeral,' so that when it was time to go I could just grab the bag and go to Phoenix."

Jack McCain - call sign "Whopper" - deployed to Kandahar Airfield as the only sailor among about 200 Americans.

McCain's squadron commander in Afghanistan, Air Force Lt. Col. Marcus Jackson, said that he initially had concerns about taking on the naval officer with the famous name. If the Taliban figured out who he was, the possibility of an insider attack in the unit was significant.

But McCain, with many months of training, was conversational in Dari and was more experienced than most of the pilots in the squadron. They devised a plan to make it work.

" 'Yes, he is the son of a senator. No, we don't talk about that in front of the Afghans,' " Jackson said of his instructions. "If it ever came up in a conversation, he would say that there are lots of guys named McCain in the military and he's just one of them."

In the first few months, McCain sketched out a syllabus to teach the Afghan pilots and learned their stories. Mirthfully, he also played up his Navy roots, growing a bristly mustache and wearing a patch emblazoned with "Free Trade and Sailors Rights," a slogan used to explain the War of 1812.

One evening, while McCain and his crew chief, Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Wright, were flying near Kandahar Airfield, their Black Hawk came under machine-gun fire. Brightly lit tracer fire sliced across the sky, Wright said. McCain turned the helicopter to safety, taking cover behind a ridge line.

On a different occasion, airmen found a fresh bullet hole in another Black Hawk that had been flying with McCain's in a formation, Wright added.

McCain said he marveled at the Afghans, who showed themselves to be "brave beyond measure." By September 2018, they were flying on their own.

McCain, sitting on the rooftop deck of his townhouse, recalled proudly how one Afghan kept his helicopter on the ground with the rotors spinning under incoming fire so a wounded Afghan soldier could be evacuated, and how Afghan and American pilots gathered to remember two fallen Afghans.

"On one side, the Afghan air force personnel lined up, and on the other side the American military personnel lined up," he said. "And then both sides saluted the Afghan flag as the coffins went by. It's one of those moments that really sticks out to me."

The deployment came to a halt last August, three months in.

A Pentagon official called McCain about 3 a.m. to let him know that he needed to start making his way home, by catching a C-17 jet to Qatar. While waiting for a second flight at an airport in Doha, he received another call. His father was gone.

"It was surreal to kind of watch people crowding around the television in the airport to look," McCain said. "There's not much you can say at that point. I got on the aircraft and flew home."

Days later, McCain was sitting next to his mother at Washington National Cathedral during a memorial service. She rested her head on his shoulder tearfully during a rendition of "Danny Boy," a song his father had requested.

McCain delivered a eulogy during a private burial service the following day.

"Goodbye, Old Man," he said. "Like you, I believe we'll see each other again. Until then, I'll keep your faith, and make my life count for something more than myself, so that you'll be proud of me on that day."

How fentanyl flowed through the U.S. Postal Service and across the southern border

By Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham
How fentanyl flowed through the U.S. Postal Service and across the southern border
Sustoms and Border Protection officer Mohammed Rahman holds a bag later found to be filled with fentanyl at John F. Kennedy International Airport's mail facility in New York on Sept. 7, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

NEW YORK - Chinese drug traffickers had some advice for American buyers of fentanyl: Let us ship it to you by regular mail. It might be slower than FedEx or UPS, but the opioid is much more likely to reach its destination through the U.S. Postal Service.

These cyber drug dealers wrote their U.S.-based customers - in emails later uncovered by federal investigators - that private delivery companies electronically tracked packages, allowing the easy identification of mail from suspect addresses and creating a bright trail connecting sellers and buyers of illegal fentanyl.

The Postal Service for years did not institute similar safeguards - and that gaping hole in the nation's borders has not been fully closed despite legislation compelling its elimination. Fifteen percent of all packages from China are still not electronically tracked, and the figure rises to 40 percent for all packages from around the world entering the United States.

"What do we not know about these packages that are coming in?" Frank Russo, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection port director at John F. Kennedy International Airport, said in an interview.

"When you're talking about a million packages a day," he said, noting the amount of international mail arriving at JFK alone, "40 percent is a large number."

On Wednesday, the Trump administration sanctioned three Chinese nationals accused of trafficking fentanyl, identifying two of them as "significant foreign narcotics traffickers." Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said the "Chinese kingpins" directly contributed to the nation's opioid addiction crisis by shipping hundreds of packages of synthetic opioids to the United States.

"The most common distribution medium is via the U.S. Postal Service," the Treasury Department said in a statement announcing the sanctions.

Trump weighed in on the issue Friday, tweeting that he was "ordering all carriers," including the Postal Service, "to SEARCH FOR & REFUSE all deliveries of Fentanyl from China (or anywhere else!)."

The illicit use of the U.S. mail system, widely recognized but unaddressed for years, was just one in a number of persistent vulnerabilities at the nation's ports of entry and in international mail centers as the fentanyl epidemic metastasized and tens of thousands of Americans died, according to dozens of interviews with law enforcement officials and lawmakers and internal government documents.

Thomas Overacker, executive director of cargo and conveyance security for Customs and Border Protection, told Congress in July that his agency is able to inspect only about 2 percent of cars and 16 percent of commercial vehicles that come across ports of entry at the southwest border - another major conduit for fentanyl.

CBP has experienced a critical shortage of officers and trained dogs. Last year, then-Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released a report concluding that the agency had 4,000 fewer officers at the nation's ports of entry than were needed.

"At the very least, we need to ensure that our ports are adequately staffed and equipped to deal with this problem - and right now that's simply not the case," McCaskill, who lost reelection last November, said in a statement at the time of the report.

Such warnings have been sounded for years.

Four years after the fentanyl epidemic began in 2013, Customs and Border Protection was not deploying enough officers or portable spectrometers that could detect the drug to make a significant dent in the flow of the synthetic opioid, according to government reports and interviews.

Dogs also were not trained to detect fentanyl at any ports of entry, including in the mail, until 2017. That was two years after the Drug Enforcement Administration alerted that the drug was being ordered over the internet and shipped directly to U.S. mailboxes from China or smuggled in vehicles or containers crossing the border from Mexico.

Fentanyl - 50 times more potent than heroin - has fueled the deadliest drug epidemic in American history. From 2013 through 2017, more than 67,000 people died of synthetic-opioid-related overdoses, the majority of them from fentanyl. In 2018, another 31,473 Americans died, according to the latest available figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While prescription opioid overdoses fell last year, deaths from fentanyl rose, according to provisional data in a CDC report released in July. Fentanyl is the third wave of the opioid epidemic, which began with prescription pills, migrated to heroin and then morphed into the current crisis.

Responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress passed a law in 2002 requiring advanced electronic data on every package coming into the United States through commercial companies, such as UPS and FedEx. Lawmakers feared terrorists could mail biological and other weapons into the country, and they needed a way to track suspicious parcels.

But the legislation exempted the Postal Service, which feared the new regulations would slow down delivery and be too costly to implement. Under the law, the secretaries of the treasury and homeland security were supposed to consult with the U.S. postmaster general to determine whether it was "appropriate" for the Postal Service to require the tracking data.

No such consultation ever happened, according to government officials.

In 2018, Congress passed another tracking law, this time to try to stanch the flow of fentanyl coursing through the mail. The measure requires that all packages from foreign countries include tracking data, but the Postal Service tried to defeat the measure and has still not implemented all the safeguards required, such as tracking the senders and receivers of all packages from China, according to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who co-sponsored the bill.

"How much longer is the post office going to sit on this, and how many people have to die before the post office gets serious about this?" Portman said in an interview.

The Postal Service said it is moving as quickly as it can to comply with the law.

The failure to address weaknesses in the country's ability to prevent the widespread import of narcotics was also compounded by a turf war between key federal agencies. CBP officials focused on stopping illicit drugs were pitted against a U.S. Postal Service that argued it needed fast-flowing mail to aid commerce.

In 2015, for instance, the two agencies agreed to start a pilot program to improve the inspection and interdiction of international packages, according to a 2018 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report.

Under the program, the Postal Service would receive advanced electronic data before packages entered the United States and then forward information to CBP officials, who would scrutinize mail identified as suspicious. The effort was to start at the postal facility at JFK International Airport - one of five international mail centers in the United States. CBP officials were supposed to target small packages from China that were under 4.4 pounds, known as ePackets.

From the start, the program faltered. Postal officials did not send all of the suspicious packages to CBP, even though the two agencies have adjacent facilities at JFK. The Senate report blamed "a lack of forethought and cooperation, conflicting missions, and interagency personality conflicts."

An unnamed CBP official was accused of refusing to cooperate with the Postal Service. The CBP official ultimately was reassigned, according to the report, but the program ground to a halt.

The value of cooperation and technology - and the costs of not securing it earlier - could be seen during a visit last fall to the cavernous and decrepit CBP building inside New York's JFK International Airport, where the U.S. Postal Service initially screens the river of incoming packages and then forwards suspicious ones to CBP for further examination.

A CBP officer inspected a small package mailed from China. Wearing protective gloves, the officer carefully lifted a plastic bag of white powder out of the box destined for a town near Atlanta. He held the bag up to a portable spectrometer. Within seconds, the newly deployed device identified what was inside: 221 grams of fentanyl - enough to deliver lethal doses to about 110,000 people. The fentanyl was turned over to Homeland Security Investigations for what is known as a "controlled delivery" monitored by law enforcement. Multiple attempts to carry out controlled deliveries to the address on the package were unsuccessful, according to Russo. CBP declined to provide the name of the package's recipient, citing an open investigation, and officials said they have not seen any other shipments to the Georgia address.

- - -

The San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego is the busiest border crossing in the Western Hemisphere. Every day, more than 90,000 people - including 70,000 passengers in 45,000 cars - walk or drive across the border where U.S. Interstate 5 begins just north of Tijuana.

San Ysidro also is one of the biggest gateways for illicit drugs into the United States. Mexican cartels smuggle across, in ever-increasing quantities, fentanyl powder mixed with heroin or pressed into counterfeit prescription pills.

Overacker testified in July that his agency seized about two pounds of fentanyl in 2013. Last year, the agency seized more than 2,100 pounds, most of it at the southwest border.

"Through June of this year, we have already seized as much as we did last year," Overacker testified at the hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on efforts to stop fentanyl from entering the country.

President Donald Trump maintains that a wall along the southwest border will stem the flow because agents are seizing large amounts of fentanyl being smuggled between ports of entry. But CBP officials say the vast majority of fentanyl is seized from vehicles driving through official crossings.

"Roughly 90 percent of what we seize is at a port of entry as opposed to in between the ports," Overacker testified.

Last year, for instance, CBP officers made their largest-ever seizure of fentanyl at the Nogales port of entry in Arizona, a crossing frequently used by the Sinaloa cartel. They found 254 pounds of powder and pills - enough for millions of lethal doses. The drugs were found in a secret compartment in the floor of a truck hauling cucumbers after scanning equipment detected an anomaly inside the vehicle. A drug dog alerted officers to the narcotics.

In 2016, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote to then-CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, asking what he was doing about fentanyl. "Does the agency have sufficient staffing at the border for drug control?" Wyden asked.

Three months later, Kerlikowske replied that the import of illegal opioids like fentanyl was increasing "at an alarming rate."

Mexican cartels were selling fentanyl "to increase their monetary profits," Kerlikowske wrote, producing the drug with its analogues and precursor chemicals obtained from China.

CBP didn't have the capability to identify fentanyl through field-testing at most of the country's ports of entry, he said, and laboratory testing could take up to a year. Staffing, he said, was clearly insufficient.

"CBP field offices," he wrote, "are currently experiencing critical shortages."

On a recent morning, a CBP officer and his drug-sniffing German shepherd walked through 26 lanes packed with cars coming up from Tijuana into San Ysidro. The dog alerted the agent to something suspicious inside a white Ford F-150 FX4 truck. They found a waterproof bag of methamphetamine floating in the gas tank.

That same morning, officers found meth hidden inside spare tires in two vehicles.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game," said Sidney Aki, CBP's San Ysidro port director for the past seven years. "They understand today we're focusing on spare tires. And they're fluid and flexible. They'll change to gas tanks. Then we'll catch on and focus on gas tanks. Then, they may move to roofs and transmission areas."

Tensions can run high amid the car exhaust fumes and honking horns. The waits can take hours. An initial screening can be followed by a trip to a secondary inspection garage, where officers deploy imaging technology; once, they found a man sewn into the upholstery of a passenger seat.

Detection dogs can alert officers to 19,000 types of explosives, while other canines are trained to smell marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, opiates and LSD. But the drug dogs were not trained to detect fentanyl until 2017. The San Diego field office has about 60 drug detection dogs, but CBP officials want more. So far, the agency has trained 450 dogs to detect fentanyl since the spring of 2017.

"If we had a squad of canines and their handlers dealing with every lane at every port of entry around the nation, that would certainly cut down on a whole lot of drugs coming in that fashion," said Ralph DeSio, who has been with the agency along the San Diego border for 23 years.

In addition, the acute shortage of CBP officers on the border has only gotten worse. Last year, the situation was so dire that the government began pulling screeners from U.S. airports and reassigning them to the southwest border.

"Is it distracting your mission?" Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., asked Overacker during the July congressional hearing.

"There's no question that the current conditions on the southwest border have caused us to shift our personnel," Overacker said.

This spring, the Government Accountability Office revealed that CBP has about 19,500 agents - almost 7,000 below its target level, and the increase in migrant border crossings has taken more personnel away from drug interdiction.

"In recent years, CBP has not been able to attain its statutorily-established minimum staffing levels for its Border Patrol agent positions or its staffing goals for other law enforcement officer positions, citing high attrition rates in some locations, a protracted hiring process, and competition from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies," Rebecca Gambler, director of Homeland Security and Justice division of the GAO, wrote in a March report.

In the past fiscal year, only three Border Patrol agents were added along the southwest border, according to CBP.

- - -

Washington moves slowly.

About five years ago, after a spike in deaths in Ohio, Portman pressed the sheriff and local police in Dayton about fentanyl.

"I asked them, 'How is it getting in?' " Portman recalled. " 'Where is it being delivered? Is this coming through the cartels?' "

He was not prepared for their answer.

"They said, 'No, it's being delivered to a P.O. box connected to an address where nobody lives, ' " Portman said.

"I asked them, 'Our U.S. mail system is sending this in?' They said, 'Yes, that's how it's coming in,' " he said.

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Portman chairs, launched the probe into fentanyl trafficking. Several investigators from the Department of Homeland Security worked undercover as part of the inquiry and focused on six fentanyl suppliers, five based in China, that were selling the drug over the Internet.

Eighteen months later, in January 2018, the subcommittee released its report.

The investigators found the suppliers they targeted - which sent hundreds of packages to more than 300 people - by using simple Google searches such as "fentanyl for sale." The suppliers said they preferred to ship fentanyl through regular express mail.

Portman's investigation disclosed that seven people died from fentanyl overdoses after buying the drug from the small group of online sellers the inquiry had focused on. One of the deceased, an Ohio man, paid $2,500 for 15 packages he received between May 2016 and February 2017.

In the fall of 2018, the Senate passed a bill introduced by Portman called the STOP (Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention) Act. It required all senders of international mail packages to provide basic shipping information to CBP, including the name and address of the shipper and the recipient of the package.

The Postal Service initially opposed the bill, according to Portman.

"They just said it was impractical and too costly," Portman said.

Robert Cintron, vice president of network operations management for the Postal Service, testified before the Senate that the legislation could potentially force his agency to stop accepting mail from many countries.

"The blocking of inbound mail destined for the United States could also lead other countries to block outbound mail originating in the United States," Cintron testified.

Cintron also said the STOP Act would impose "enormous new costs," estimated at $1.2 billion to $4.8 billion over a decade. The Postal Service has struggled financially for years.

Portman's bill passed Congress with bipartisan support in October, less than two weeks before the midterm elections, but years after local officials, such as those in Dayton, were imploring Congress for help. Trump signed it into law.

It required the Postal Service to have advance electronic data on 70 percent of all packages mailed from abroad and 100 percent on all packages mailed from China by Dec. 31, 2018.

Postal officials missed the deadline.

At the July congressional hearing, Gary Barksdale, the chief postal inspector for the United States, said his agency is now receiving advanced electronic data on 85 percent of packages from China, compared with 32 percent in 2017, and on 60 percent of all inbound packages, compared with 26 percent two years ago.

"This represents a significant improvement within a relatively limited period of time," Barksdale said.

David Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman, said the agency "fully supports and is aggressively working to implement [the law] to keep dangerous drugs from entering the United States from China and other countries.

"As it has done throughout its history, the U.S. Postal Service is committed to taking all necessary actions to combat criminal use of the mail as it continues to provide reliable and efficient service to the American public," he said.

The administration had also expected help from Chinese authorities. On Dec. 1, 2018, Trump met Chinese President Xi Jinping for dinner in Buenos Aires at the Group of 20 Summit. The White House said Chinese officials had promised to help halt the export of fentanyl to the United States.

"President Xi, in a wonderful humanitarian gesture, has agreed to designate Fentanyl as a Controlled Substance, meaning that people selling Fentanyl to the United States will be subject to China's maximum penalty under the law," then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced.

The fentanyl ban was due to take effect on May 1, 2019.

But on Aug. 1, Trump accused his Chinese counterpart of reneging.

"My friend President Xi said that he would stop the sale of fentanyl to the United States - this never happened, and many Americans continue to die!" the president said in a tweet.

- - -

The Washington Post's Nick Miroff and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.

We tried 13 popular potato chip brands, and our top and bottom picks might just surprise you

By Maura Judkis
We tried 13 popular potato chip brands, and our top and bottom picks might just surprise you
We tried 13 popular potato chip brands, and our top and bottom picks might just surprise you. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post.

In advice columnist Judith Martin's book, "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior," a reader asks: "What is the proper way to eat potato chips?"

Miss Manners replied:

"Gentle Reader: With a knife and fork. A fruit knife and an oyster fork, to be specific. For pity's sake, what is this world coming to? Miss Manners doesn't mind explaining the finer points of gracious living, but feels that anyone who doesn't have the sense to pick up a potato chip and stuff it into his mouth probably should not be running around loose on the streets."

We all eat chips the same way: by the fistful, often with little self-control. One turns into 25, a bowl of dip becomes dregs to be excavated for flavor with the last crumbly few shards in the bag. They're welcome at any party. They're worth their weight in gold at elementary school cafeterias.

Chips can go highbrow (perfect with caviar) and lowbrow (equally great with onion dip out of the jar). I grew up eating Cape Cod potato chips dipped in cottage cheese - one of my mother's favorite snacks from her childhood - and had no idea until middle school that it was not a normal combination of foods. (Which, honestly? Try it. It's great.)

They're also an easy upsell at your local sandwich place, adding crunch alongside your turkey on rye. That's why we bought 13 popular brands and conducted a blind taste test, to see which bag is worthy of being your afternoon reward of a salty snack or a companion to your panino. The list includes some deli classics - hello, Lay's - and several regional favorites that have found national distribution, such as Louisiana's Zapp's and Route 11 chips. If you're about to email us to say that we forgot your favorite brand - yes, we know, we just couldn't include every chip in the country. So please don't get . . . salty. *Ba-dum-tsss*

Our panel of tasters rated the chips on their texture (too crumbly? too crunchy?) salt balance (too much? not enough?) and overall taste, with a maximum possible score of 20. We were very, very thirsty afterward.

- - -

13. Utz

Score: 7.2 Ohhhh, boy. This is going to cause some trouble, isn't it? Utz is a beloved brand. But in a blind taste test, the thin and crumbly chip really fell short, compared with the others. "Is this even made from potatoes? Thin as they are, they coat the mouth, unpleasantly. There's a nice taste to the oil, though," one taster said. "No taste. Does this chip even exist? Or was it a figment of my imagination?" another said. With its "medium salt level" and "powdery texture," tasters had "nothing to recommend." "Gag! I want to give this zero." "No amount of salt balance will fix it." "This is a potato cracker, not a potato chip."

11. (Tie) Score: 9.4

Herr's

Both of these brands came in second to last, but for completely different reasons. In the case of Herr's, it came down to texture. They were "kind of Pringley," with "a texture almost like reconstituted beach sand. Thin and lifeless." The thin texture contributed to more breakage than some of the other brands. "I'm staring at a bowl of chip shards," said one taster, while another deemed it "basically like eating potato chip crumbs." They were "slightly burnt," "a bit too salty for my taste," "soggy and sort of sad," and "vaguely schmaltzy."

Route 11

In the case of Route 11, it was more about taste. The chips "could use more salt and less oil." "I hated it," said one taster, who added that it "tastes fishy, probably because the oil was turned. Ew." Tasters thought they were "lightweight in both texture and flavor" and tasted "artificial and a little stale." "The salt balance seems off." "Where's the potato flavor?" "Pretty pedestrian." "Just not exciting."

10. Dirty

Score: 10.4

These were the first chips that tasters thought tasted like potatoes. "I appreciate when you can see potato skin on a chip," said one while another agreed that they "actually taste[d] like potato and they sit well on the tongue." The problem was the oil - specifically, that there was a lot of it. They were "a crispy oil ball" that was "very shiny, disconcertingly so." It gave them a "kind of odd texture - some are a bit chewy? Doesn't have that crunch sound like some of the others." It also gave them a more pronounced color. "These are orange, which makes me think they're extremely oil-logged." "Weird, bitter, off-oil aftertaste."

9. Lay's Classic

Score: 10.8

Another thin chip, which is an extremely divisive style. But it fared better than Utz and Herr's, because it triggered childhood memories: "Standard lunch bag fare, but not in a bad way." "Very nostalgic, like I've had them a million times before." But that didn't mean our tasters wouldn't have some criticism, namely on its slim size and crumbly texture. "I put it in my mouth. Where did it go? It's disappeared, and forgotten." "Super salty, which wouldn't be bad if they weren't also so thin." "Might be nice in a sandwich, but you wouldn't really want it with one." Classic Lay's are "a whisper of a crisp" - "thin, familiar, greasy" - that "immediately dissolved, but not in an unpleasant way." "Just so-so."

8. Miss Vickie's

Score: 10.9

Miss Vickie, bless her heart, needs to put a little more salt on her chips, according to our tasters. "Something's out of whack here," one suspicious taster said. The chips "need a tad more salt to bring those flavors out." "Is there even any salt at all? If so, I can't taste it." The have a "great crunch, but a slightly troubling taste, as if the oil they were cooked in had been held at too high a temperature." One taster said the less-salty chips were "a nice relief in a [13]-chip taste test, but not ideal in my lunch." "These taste like they were once good but got stale."

7. Kettle

Score: 11

Munch munch, crunch crunch! This chip was "audibly crispy," but less in an ASMR way and more in a "I'm worried about my dentist judging me" way. "My poor teeth, they are working too hard," one taster said. "First they have to mash down this chip, and then it clings to my molars like taffy." It was "anemic and yet somehow effortful," with "great texture and salt, but not enough potato flavor." The crunch was not a drawback for all: One tester "Enjoyed the texture" and found it "not too greasy." Though the "potato flavor is secondary."

6. Ruffles

Score: 11.8

Yes, it was a blind test, but thanks to Ruffles's distinctive texture and taste, a few people guessed this one. It was pretty polarizing, receiving some of the lowest and highest scores of the taste test. Some of those high scores were nostalgia: "Ah, a familiar crunch from pool parties and cookouts." "They would be okay with onion dip." "The ridges are such a pleasant addition and somehow even out the salt consumption." Others felt that the ridges and salt content were a concern. "It feels like my teeth are mashing into it, rather than getting quick, satisfying crunch. "I like the tactile sensation of the crunch, but after two, I can feel my body begin to puff from excess sodium." One taster summarized: "A little off-putting on the tongue, but I find that it's hard to stop eating them."

4. (Tie) Score: 12.8

Whole Foods 365

These are thick and crispy - maybe too much? As much as testers liked this chip, which was a lot, they also worried about their gums. "So crunchy, I felt like I was going to cut the roof of my mouth with an errant bite," one said. "This is the chip that rips up the roof of your mouth on the way down," another said. The Whole Foods house brand was "VERY salty, but not unpleasantly so," a "solid potato chip with a decent texture" that "shatters on the tongue." "The scorched edges makes me think this chip means business." "I really like the little pieces of skin left on the chip." "So crispy, very potatoey!"

Cape Cod

The chip that evokes blue-blooded beach vacations is "very satisfying - crunchy, salty but not too much, and a variety of fun structural formations." It was the "least greasy yet," "crispy and pleasant overall," and "would be great with a nice pilsner." Tasters especially liked its folded over chips, for a double layer of crunch: "Thick, irregular shapes (which I love)." "What a curious creature!" one taster exclaimed. "There's a snow-like powdery quality to the salt and something almost adorable about their shape."

3. Zapp's

Score: 12.9

These Louisiana chips were greasy but not in a bad way. A "grease bomb - but that doesn't mean they don't taste good," one taster proclaimed. They have a "fun crunch and strong potatoey taste at the beginning, but then your mouth fills with oil." They're thick, with "lots of weird shapes," but tasters didn't complain that they tore up their mouth. "These are big, tough lads. They have real crunch." "The burnt pieces are the most promising." "I like these a lot - good amount of crunch and texture."

2. Deep River

Score: 13.6

Hailing from Deep River, Connecticut, these chips have a "thick and crackly body" with "excellent crunch and pretty good potato flavor" and a "better oil-to-salt balance that makes me forget the grease on my fingertips." "I really like the complexity - the strong potato flavor, the wobbly surface, the formidable texture, the loud crunch," one taster said. "This is the correct salt level (which means high-ish) and they've got a really nice crunch factor." Deep River "tastes like a potato, more or less," with "nice bubbles and crunch."

1. Lay's Kettle Cooked

Score: 14.1

The winner wasn't a niche brand with a precious story. It was just a version of one of America's best-selling mass-market chips, but with perfect technique. Kettle-cooked Lay's have "a nice pop of salt" and offer a "strong potato taste game." In fact, they're "really salty, but it feels warranted," and also "seriously crunchy" - to the point where it "would be very difficult to eat discreetly, if that was the goal!" They scored high in texture: "Full of air bubbles (love that)," and "awesome folded ones, extra crunch." Thin chips, like regular Lay's, just aren't as interesting and not formidable enough to hold their own against your sandwich. All of the tasters were "digging the kettle style." One summed it up: "These would not be safe in my house."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Moon can't bear watching Earth do this to itself

By alexandra petri
Moon can't bear watching Earth do this to itself

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Petri clients only)

By ALEXANDRA PETRI

WASHINGTON -- Gazing down with a vaguely orange tint at a new fire blossoming on the Earth where a fire should not be, the Moon confided that it felt sad and powerless watching the Earth destroy itself. "At first it was small things. Losing a species here or there. Just careless, really. These things happen to a planet on its way up. Earth still seemed to have it together. But now?" The moon looked on in mingled horror as the Earth began emitting large quantities of smoke. "I don't know where this ends. Do you have any idea what that does to your lungs?"

The Amazon rainforest, currently ablaze, was one of the things about the Earth the Moon most admired -- so green and lush, home to people who had lived there an immense length of time and to priceless species that would never have occurred to the Moon to dream up. Frogs of every color and degree of poisonousness, rosette-coated ocelots, trees that rose up out of the water on stiltlike roots, piranhas, innumerable birds, a place whose noises at night the moon could only begin to imagine and that was capable of producing so much oxygen. And that was just what of the Earth was on fire.

"If I had anything -- anywhere on me that could produce oxygen like that?" the Moon asked. "I'd never touch it. I'd never let it come to any harm. Oh, it makes me sick."

"Earth and I came up together," the Moon went on. "I remember when it was just nothing. No people. Not even its signature blue-green cloudy tint. It was just us two rocks spinning here. But I knew Earth had the potential to be more, and it kills me to watch ... " The Moon waned a little. "You know. This."

"When Earth first generated human beings, it was -- oh, it was fun. It was like, WHOA, you're building a big wall now? Is that permanent? You are WILD! And at night now, it's magical seeing those little speckles of light shining all along the sleepy side. You've done things I admired. You know, it was humans' idea to visit me. Back in 1969. I don't know if you remember or have been reminded of that at all. But I remember. The dinosaurs never thought to visit. I was touched. And I thought -- this planet is going to go places. Maybe Earth is going to be the first one to get out of this lousy solar system and really make something of itself. My Earth! The whole cosmos is going to get to see all the wonderful things it makes, things like music and mathematics -- but I'm repeating myself." The Moon's flag drooped. "And now I wonder if that's ever going to happen. It's such a waste."

The Moon has contemplated an intervention. "But what would I do? Encourage a visit from an asteroid? There's -- there's kids down there."

"The dinosaurs, that was sudden. I'm still getting over that. But at least it wasn't, you know, anything they could have stopped. But this?"

The Moon said it hoped the humans would live long enough to be destroyed by natural causes, like an immense volcano wiping out all life, and that it could continue to enjoy the company of a vibrant, greenish-blue planet for millennia to come. "Some of these things I feel like I encouraged. All the internal combustion and disposables for a while made Earth more fun to watch and be around. But it's habit-forming. I should have seen that. Ah, this is so sad. I hate watching. I wouldn't if I weren't tidally locked."

More smoke billowed up.

"Earth, please. If you just did little things to take care of yourself, you wouldn't have to become like me," the Moon said. "A barren waste with nothing on it to delight the eye, anywhere, except some garbage and a lonely flag. That's all right. I know what I am. But I wanted more for you."

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

When will Trump supporters finally say, 'Okay, this is not normal'?

By megan mcardle
When will Trump supporters finally say, 'Okay, this is not normal'?

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For McArdle clients only)

By MEGAN MCARDLE

WASHINGTON -- The left had an easy time settling on its attitude toward President Trump's supporters: a mixture of horrified outrage and sneering contempt. For many of us on the right, though, it hasn't been so easy. The president's boosters aren't our natural enemies; they're former and hopefully future allies. For three years, we've been struggling to find some way to discuss Trump.

We don't want to destroy Trump supporters but to convince them -- that Trump's main life achievements before the presidency lay in the fields of getting publicity, cheating people less powerful than himself and having a rich, politically connected father who could grease his way into the real estate business, rather than negotiating, managing or building; that impulsive, thin-skinned and belligerent people might be a great deal of fun to watch on television or Twitter but are rarely much good at their jobs; that Trump's inexperience and lack of interest in policy have made him remarkably ineffective at pursuing even his stated political goals; and that the cost of his inexperience, his indifference to the day-to-day work of the presidency and his bitterly divisive rhetoric are not worth the transient joy of watching liberals have conniptions.

I wish I could say our attempts at persuasion have worked. Some of our former comrades agree with the indictment but argue that the liberal establishment's radicalism has left them no choice but to support the race-baiting vulgarian. The religious right, in particular, senses an existential threat from a combination of overweening government and "woke capitalism," and feels compelled to throw in with anyone who promises to fight on its side. Others simply write off our dismay as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or a desire to finally fit in at the proverbial Georgetown cocktail party.

Many days I wonder if I shouldn't just concede defeat. And then ... Greenland. Once more unto the breach.

This is a president who (BEG ITAL)canceled a state visit (END ITAL) because the prime minister of Denmark declined to (BEG ITAL)sell part of Danish territory to the United States(END ITAL). Can you really look at that sort of behavior and think Trump's (BEG ITAL)critics(END ITAL) have the derangement problem?

It's not particularly odd to want to add Greenland to U.S. territorial holdings. President Harry Truman thought the same thing and tried to buy it from Denmark in 1946, because the massive island is in a strategically valuable location. What's bizarre is thinking that the way to go about it was to openly discuss the matter -- successful real estate moguls generally try to buy up land as quietly as possible, not float their plans to any random dinner companion who might run to the media, driving up the asking price.

It is odder still to cancel a long-planned state visit simply because the Danish prime minister called the idea "absurd" -- which, as deal rejections go, is fairly tame. Besides, if Greenland is so strategically valuable, you'd think Trump would want to deepen the U.S. relationship with the government with which the territory is associated. Or at least you'd think this if you believed that Trump cared more about U.S. interests than about his own fragile vanity.

This is not normal. And I don't mean that as in, "Trump is violating the shibboleths of the Washington establishment." I mean that as in, "This is not normal for a functioning adult."

I'm not trying to perform some sort of amateur diagnosis of Trump as a narcissist, or a psychopath, or an early-stage dementia patient. I'm not Trump's doctor, and I don't know what's wrong with him. Very possibly, it's simply a terminal case of "billionairitis," a well-known condition where very rich people slowly lose the ability to tolerate anything except the most obsequious flattery.

But I don't need a diagnosis to know that the symptoms are pretty worrying. If your company's owner abruptly pulled out of a conference with an important joint-venture partner just because the other CEO said something mildly unflattering, would you try to defend it as some sort of cunning N-dimensional chess move? Or would you start looking for another job? If your mother canceled a family visit because your cousin wouldn't sell her the bedroom, would you get mad at your cousin for slighting your mother's honor? Or would you try to arrange a neurological consult?

Hopefully, you wouldn't just smile and say, "No, really, everything's fine," when it's very obviously not. The longer you humor people who have clearly gone off the rails, the more time they have to damage themselves and those around them. Moreover, the damage is usually fiercest to the people closest by -- which in Trump's case means the folks who have been standing loyally behind him for the past three years.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's tendency to double down on bad ideas doesn't bode well for the economy

By catherine rampell
Trump's tendency to double down on bad ideas doesn't bode well for the economy

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

WASHINGTON -- There are lots of reasons to worry about how President Trump would handle a recession, should we tip into one. There's his incompetent economic team. Or the limited fiscal policy tools at his disposal, given that Republicans already spent nearly $2 trillion on tax cuts. Or his efforts to discredit the Federal Reserve just when we'll need it most.

One underrated concern: Trump's tendency to double down on stupid and destructive ideas, despite -- perhaps because of? -- overwhelming evidence of their stupidity and destructiveness.

Trump's worst policies, economic or otherwise, tend to follow a pattern. First, he posits something like: Sure, the experts say that has predictably high costs and bad consequences. But ignore them! Believe me, it's a great idea, and it'll be completely costless.

To wit: Tax cuts will pay for themselves, without injury to deficits. China will pay all the tariffs, without harm to U.S. importers, manufacturers, retailers, farmers. Mexico will pay for the wall, without costs to U.S. taxpayers or international relations.

Free lunches, all around.

Then when it becomes clear those lunches weren't free -- in fact, they were quite pricey -- the pitch changes. Okay, Trump and his cronies admit, maybe we're suffering some pain now. But that pain will be worth it, because eventually it will pay off.

(BEG ITAL)Someday(END ITAL) the tax cuts will pay for themselves. (BEG ITAL)Someday(END ITAL) the trade war will pay off. (BEG ITAL)Someday(END ITAL) Mexico will pay for the wall.

In fact, to get us closer to someday, we just need more tax cuts, more tariffs, more fights with neighbors to the south. Because, hey, you know what they say: If a bad idea doesn't work out, just make that bad idea even bigger.

Learning from mistakes and reversing course are never options; wishing away the foreseeable fallout always is. That wishing-away is also a team effort, and one that predates Trump. Republicans have for years been lying that tax cuts will eventually pay for themselves, if we're only patient.

Ask Kansas how that worked out.

Even so, Team Trump has lately elevated this goal-post-moving to an art form. Consider how White House aides first publicly dismissed any indication that recession risks were rising, insisting that Democrats and the media were fabricating such fears. Then White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged to GOP donors this week: Okay, okay, we (BEG ITAL)might(END ITAL) have a recession, but it'll be "moderate and short."

Sounds an awful lot like, "Recessions are short and easy to win."

Other Republican officials have been aiding and abetting Trump's pigheadedness, too, in some cases hoping to turn it to their advantage.

On Thursday, for instance, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., cheerfully tweeted that he'd spoken with White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow about the economy. Scott concluded from their discussion that Congress should use Treasury's supposed tariff revenue windfall to come up with a plan to cut taxes elsewhere. Kudlow recently confirmed Trump's interest in this idea.

Which raises a couple of questions.

First of all, isn't that tariff revenue allegedly already earmarked for farmers? And second, tariffs are (BEG ITAL)themselves(END ITAL) taxes; so if you want to use Trump's tariffs as an excuse to cut taxes, why not just ... cut the tariffs? After all, it's these very import taxes -- and not taxes on capital gains, corporate profits, even payrolls -- that are threatening economic growth.

Oddly, Republicans always seem to believe that tax cuts will pay for themselves through higher growth -- except when the taxes in question are Trump's tariffs.

The reason, of course, is that positing this would require forcing the president to admit error, something he's less and less likely to do the worse things get.

We got a glimpse of this Thursday, when Trump complained how unfair it was that Germany, one of nine major economies now in or on the brink of recession, enjoys the privilege of offering negative sovereign debt yields. Trump sees this not as a sign of a country in crisis but rather a country somehow trying to cheat the United States.

The possibility of a synchronized global downturn would require some sort of coordinated global policy response, just as it did a decade ago during the Great Recession. But rather than evaluating how we got to the present situation, or how to make amends with the allies we might need to help get us out of it, we already know what Trump's objective will be: proving his very wrong ideas were very right all along.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

An obvious proviso for re-admitting Russia to the G-7

By david ignatius
An obvious proviso for re-admitting Russia to the G-7

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

2ND WRITETHRU: 4th to last graf, 1st sentence: "VirusTotal" sted ""Total Virus"" 1ST WRITETHRU: 5th graf, 2nd sentence: "regular dialogue" sted "regular secret dialogue"

By DAVID IGNATIUS

WASHINGTON -- As the G-7 gathers this weekend in Biarritz, President Trump has expressed hope for the return of Russia, the missing guest at the table. But any consideration of this issue requires dealing with Trump's least favorite subject -- Russian cybermeddling in U.S. elections.

The stark reality is that the United States is now fighting a low-level cyberwar to combat Kremlin political interference and other malign actions. U.S. Cyber Command launched this "hunt forward" campaign last summer to deter Russian meddling in the 2018 midterm elections. It's part of a broader strategy of "persistent engagement" with adversaries.

If Trump truly wants to invite President Vladimir Putin to the 2020 version of a re-christened G-8, there's an obvious price he should demand from Putin: a verifiable commitment to stop Russia's egregious cyber-interference in the elections of the U.S. and other members of the current G-7.

Trump this week floated the idea of readmitting Russia, which had been expelled from the then-G-8 in 2014 following its invasion of Crimea. "I could certainly see it being the G-8 again," he told reporters before a meeting with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania, "because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia."

That's not a crazy idea. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maintains a regular dialogue with his Russian counterpart. After the latest meeting this week, a Pentagon statement cited "the inherent value of regular communication in order to avoid miscalculation and promote transparency."

Meanwhile, the invisible cyberwar continues, with Cyber Command dispatching teams to work with key allies to identify and expose Russian malware. A senior defense official provided new details of this operation in an interview this week.

The timeline of 2018 election-security effort is intriguing, because it unfolded while Trump was publicly discounting Russian election meddling in 2016. The push began in May 2018, when then-Defense Secretary James Mattis tasked Gen. Paul Nakasone, the newly appointed head of Cyber Command, to work with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to defend the midterm elections.

The "Russia Small Group" was the anodyne name given to the joint task force created by Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, both under Nakasone's command. By government standards, it moved quickly: It was formed in July, got legal operational authority in August, and began deploying forward teams abroad in September and October. Each of the teams was small, and fewer than 50 people were sent abroad in total.

The Pentagon has disclosed three countries where Cyber Command teams were deployed: Ukraine, Montenegro and Macedonia. With permission from these host governments, the teams operated inside their networks to collect malware the Russians had planted on supposedly secure systems. It was a treasure trove, according to the senior defense official.

"What surprised us was how blatant they were," said the senior defense official. "The activity was so pervasive." The forward-deployed teams discovered new pieces of Russian malware, including "rootkits," which can allow an adversary to control a target's computer system without being detected, "tunneling" software that hides communications in public networks, and other dangerous tools.

The Russians were sloppy in attacking networks of countries close to their borders, the defense official said. "If you think nobody is watching you, you don't try to cover your tracks."

Then came public exposure: After the malware had been analyzed at Fort Meade, some of it was sent to an internet clearinghouse called VirusTotal, where computer-security professionals could analyze it and adopt countermeasures. In October and November, 10 of these malware tools were posted online, and a half-dozen more have been added since, the defense official said.

The campaign objective was to impose costs on the Russians. "When you lose a tool, somebody has to re-create it," which takes time and money, the official said. Cyber Command also dropped calling cards, so to speak, personally messaging some of the hackers at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg. The Washington Post has reported, without rebuttal, that Cyber Command operatives also briefly shut down the Internet Research Agency's computer systems.

Cyber Command's forward-deployed campaign will continue to protect the 2020 election, the defense official said. The message to Moscow is three-fold, he said: "We know what you're doing. We are united against you. Your behavior has consequences."

Even with this new U.S.-led campaign, Putin isn't likely to disarm what has been such an effective cyber campaign. But the G-7 leaders, Trump most especially, should make clear that's the first requirement for getting back in the club.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's idea of buying Greenland is far from absurd.

By marc a. thiessen
Trump's idea of buying Greenland is far from absurd.

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, August 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, August 22, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)

By MARC A. THIESSEN

WASHINGTON -- President Trump is upset that Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called his interest in purchasing Greenland "absurd." Her dismissive response should have come as no surprise. In 1946, when President Harry Truman tried to purchase Greenland, Secretary of State James Byrnes wrote that the proposal "seemed to come as a shock" and an insult to Danish officials, who turned it down.

That was a big mistake. As part of his deal, Truman had offered to trade parts of the Point Barrow district of Alaska, including the rights to any oil discovered there, to Denmark, in exchange for parts of Greenland. The Danes dismissed the idea just as they did Trump's proposal. In 1967, the richest oil strike in U.S. history was made in the Point Barrow area. Bad move, Denmark! Sad!

With that blunder in their rearview mirror, you would think that Danish leaders would at least hear Trump out. The president's idea of buying Greenland is far from absurd. Today we have a military base in Greenland, so there is no need to buy it for that purpose. But Greenland has enormous unexplored stores of natural resources, including zinc, lead, gold, iron ore, diamonds, copper and uranium, that Denmark has been unable or unwilling to exploit.

It also has large, untapped stores of rare-earth elements, such as praseodymium or dysprosium, that are critical to the production of everything from electric cars to smartphones and lasers. Today, the United States gets many of these rare-earth elements from China, which makes Americans dependent on Beijing. The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing may cut off access to those minerals in its trade dispute with Washington, and China is also trying to corner the market for rare-earth elements in Greenland. Buying Greenland would put those strategically valuable minerals in U.S. hands.

But what makes Greenland particularly valuable to the United States is global warming. The unavoidable receding of Arctic sea ice will open a new sea route in the Arctic that can be used for both commercial and military vessels. In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered an address at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Finland in which he pointed out that "steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days." He added that the emerging "Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st-century Suez and Panama canals."

He's right. A recent report in the New York Times notes that as sea ice melts and "Arctic routes become more direct, voyage times could fall to less than three weeks in some cases, making Arctic shipping potentially more attractive than the southern routes in coming decades."

The United States and its allies have a major interest in not allowing these Arctic sea lanes to fall under Russian or Chinese control. "Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a New South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?" Pompeo asked in Finland. Purchasing Greenland would help the United States to better secure these emerging strategic passageways.

In 1946, the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Truman that Greenland was "completely worthless to Denmark." Today, Denmark may not feel that way. But rather than getting offended, Copenhagen should entertain Trump's offer. After all, it would not be the first time Denmark sold the United States one of its overseas possessions. In 1916, it sold the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) to President Woodrow Wilson. So, we've long ago established that parts of Denmark are for sale; there's no harm haggling over the price.

Indeed, a Greenland purchase would be in keeping with a long history of presidential land acquisitions. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from France. In 1819, President James Monroe bought Florida from Spain. In 1854, President Franklin Pierce, in the Gadsden Purchase, bought part of New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico. In 1867, President Andrew Johnson bought Alaska from Russia. In 1898, President William McKinley bought the Philippines from Spain. And in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt rented the Panama Canal Zone from Panama and Guantanamo Bay from Cuba. If Denmark won't sell Greenland, maybe we can rent it!

On Monday, Trump tweeted a picture of a gleaming Trump high-rise amid small huts on the Greenland coast and declared, "I promise not to do this to Greenland!" But the idea of buying Greenland is no joke. It actually makes a lot of strategic and economic sense.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

The Trump presidency is not just unfolding, it is unraveling

By michael gerson
The Trump presidency is not just unfolding, it is unraveling

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

(Advance for Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)

By MICHAEL GERSON

WASHINGTON -- Historians studying the Trump presidency will have a prodigious amount of digital material that demands examination but defies explanation. The president's Aug. 21, half-hour, South Lawn press availability deserves to be at the top of that list.

With the whir of a helicopter engine in the background, Donald Trump veered from topic to topic with utter confidence, alarming ignorance, minimal coherence and relentless duplicity.

President Vladimir Putin, he said, "made a living on outsmarting President Obama" -- even though it is Trump who now urges a Russian return to the G-7 summit without any concessions on Putin's part.

On pursuing the trade war with China, Trump called himself the "chosen one." This came within hours of retweeting the claim he is loved like "the second coming of God." At some point, arrogance is so extreme and delusional that it can only be expressed in blasphemy.

Trump accused the Danish prime minister of "blowing off the United States" because she scorned his own balmy, offensive musings on the future of Greenland. "We treat countries with respect," he said -- except, presumably, the "shithole" ones.

Trump's new immigration rule, he claimed, would "do even more" to bring migrant families together -- though this togetherness, he failed to mention, would come by allowing the indefinite detention of migrant families.

"I am the least racist person ever to serve in office," said the man who is increasingly bold in his use of racist tropes.

He joked again about being in office 10 or 14 years from now -- appealing to people who find overturning the constitutional order a laugh riot.

"Mental health," Trump went on. "Very important." Hard to argue with that one.

"Our 2nd Amendment will remain strong," Trump promised, while previewing an effort to overturn that portion of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing birthright citizenship. Some parts of the Constitution, clearly, are more constitutional than others.

Trump pledged the return of thousands of captured Islamic State fighters to Europe, one way or another. "If Europe doesn't take them, I'll have no choice but to release them in the countries from which they came, which is Germany, France and other places." Did the president of the United States just threaten to release dangerous terrorists on the streets of our closest allies? Evidently.

Of the wounded and grieving families Trump visited following recent mass shootings: "The love for me," he boasted, "and my love for them was unparalleled." And this was demonstrated by "hundreds and hundreds of people all over the floor." No one draws a bigger crowd in an intensive care unit.

After repeating an anti-Semitic trope about the disloyalty of Jews who vote Democratic, Trump insisted to a reporter, "It's only anti-Semitic in your head." But control over the plain meaning of English words is not a presidential power. And the charge of disloyalty is the essence of anti-Semitism.

Seldom in presidential history has more nonsense been expressed with greater concision. Never would the interests of America have been better served by a louder helicopter.

What to make of this? First, the Trump presidency is not just unfolding, it is unraveling. All narcissists believe they are at the center of the universe. But what happens when a narcissist is actually placed at the center of the universe? The chosen one happens. Trump is not just arguing for an alternative set of policies; he is asserting an alternative version of reality, in which resistance to his will is disloyalty to the country.

Second, the president has systemically removed from his circle anyone who finds this appalling. Every president has the right to advisers who share his basic worldview. But Trump appears, on many topics, to have stopped taking advice altogether. His counselors are now flunkies. The proof of their loyalty is not found in the honesty of their opinions but in the regurgitation of his insanity.

Third, the president is increasingly prone to the equation of the national interest with his personal manias. He is perfectly willing to threaten relations with Denmark -- or to force the Israeli government into a difficult choice -- if it serves his tweeted whims. This approach is more characteristic of personal rule than democratic leadership. Self-worship is inconsistent with true patriotism.

Trump's promotion of moral and political chaos puts other members of his party in a difficult position. Difficult, but not complicated. It is their public duty to say that foolish things are foolish, that insane things are insane, that bigoted things are bigoted. On growing evidence, their failure to do so is abetting the country's decline into farce.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

The sharpest pens in the industry serve up points of view to chew on.

Bury your dead-tired strips and grab something fresh, meaningful and hilarious.

Serious therapy and serious fun to give readers a break from breaking news.